Debut Dagger 2014

Writer’s diary: stardate: 15.11.2013

 

This week I received an email from the Crime Writers Association (CWA). My reaction was something approaching a cocktail of excitement and smugness. At last, finally, they’ve come to their senses. They realise their error. The recognition overdue to the Romney and Marsh Files has arrived like the good old second post. (Why does that memory make me tearfully nostalgic?)

So, I made myself a tea in my finest bone china, shrugged on my Noel Coward replica smoking jacket – something I got cheap on ebay some time ago for just such an event – fitted a tailor-made to my ivory cigarette holder and clicked open.

Debut Dagger Now Open

Welcome to the CWA Debut Dagger

For fifteen years the CWA has been encouraging new writing with its Debut Dagger competition for unpublished writers. The submissions are judged by a panel of top crime editors and agents.

The 2014 competition is open from Friday 1st November 2013 until Friday 31st January 2014. The Debut Dagger is open to anyone who has not yet had a novel published commercially. The first prize is £700 and is kindly sponsored by Orion. Short listed authors receive a professional assessment of their entry.

Winning the Debut Dagger doesn’t guarantee you’ll get published but it does mean your work will be seen by leading agents and top editors who have signed up over two dozen winners and shortlisted Debut Dagger competitors.

Over the period of entry we will be sending out regular emails with updates and writing tips. But we also have a new Facebook Group “The Debuts” where members of the CWA are on hand to answer your questions. We will also be sharing more tips.

Oh.

An advertisement.

I stubbed out my cigarette in the Earl Grey threw my jacket into the corner of the room, crossed my arms and brooded.

Let’s get something clear: this IS a sour grapes post so I don’t need anyone telling me that. My writing clearly wasn’t good enough to get noticed in last year’s competition so I don’t need anyone to tell me that either. This post will be dripping with unprofessional jealousy, tainted by the scorn of the overlooked, infected with bitterness at the slight of the Crime Writers Association. Think thirteenth fairy in Sleeping Beauty. And double it.

Last year I entered my three books in the R&M Files in the Debut Dagger 2013. And I am not embarrassed to admit that I had high hopes for at least one of them making the short list. (All of them actually. I dreamed about being the first author to have more than one title singled out for special mentions rather than end up in the CWA office toilets as emergency bog paper.) I really did. Not one of them did.

I took it badly. I still am.

I had entered three books at £25 a throw – that’s £75. A fool and his money and all that – and invested more hope than was probably decent or healthy.

I won’t be entering again. And this is why.

I so wanted this post to be far more comprehensive than it is. But I haven’t found the time to do the necessary homework and because the 2014 competition is here my hand is forced. I’ve run out of time. Where I don’t have the information to back up a point I’ll do what I did for my university degree dissertation – I’ll make it up with an uneducated guess. (Come to think of it, it was probably the great marks I received for my largely invented essays at uni that encouraged me to try my hand at writing fiction for money.)

I wanted to investigate things like exactly how many people who have been on the short lists of recent years actually go on to get picked up by agents and subsequently published.(This is the dazzling diamond encrusted carrot that the CWA allude to without actually guaranteeing in the spiel for suckers like me.) I had a bit of a scoot about the Internet on that but could find very few names who had made short lists of recent years and now had traditionally published books to their name.

I did do some background. In June I contacted the CWA with the following questions:

Hello 

I am preparing to write an on-line article about the CWA Debut Dagger competition for a leading crime and thriller website that has asked me for a contribution (that’s actually true). 

Would you be able to supply answers to the following questions? 

1) How many entries were received for 2013’s competition? 

2) How many readers do you have sifting through the entries? 

3) What number, or percentage, approximately, of entries were not considered for reasons to do with breach of entry rules and guidelines? (Any general details here would be very helpful.) 

4) When the closing date is reached, what is the process and time-scale involved for entries received, up until the short-list is announced? 

5) It is well-known that some entries go on to be picked up by literary agents and then find publishers. How do literary agents become aware of manuscripts that they might be interested in? 

6) How does the CWA use the money generated by the entry fees? 

If you are able to assist me with the answers to all or any of these questions I would be most grateful. If you have anything else regarding the Début Dagger competition to share that you think readers and prospective entrants would find useful, or just be interested to learn, please don’t hesitate to mention it. 

I look forward to hearing from you. 

Kind regards 

Oliver Tidy

I was particularly interested in the answers to questions 1 & 6.

According to the responses I received from a most helpful and friendly lady at the CWA there were four hundred and fifty six (456) entries for the 2013 Debut Dagger. If not an avalanche of entries, certainly a decent slush-pile. (Maybe that could be the collective noun for entries in a writing competition – a slush pile of entries.)

In response to question six – How does the CWA use the money generated by the entry fees? – the following response was provided:

This goes on administration for the awards which, as I am sure you can imagine, is very labour intensive. As a non profit all of the CWA’s monies go towards our mission.’

There is one cash prize for the Debut Dagger. It is £700. But no one is entering for the money. Everyone’s there for that diamond encrusted carrot. I think that the least the CWA could do would be to provide every fee paying entrant with a set of cardboard cut-out donkey ears.

£25 x 456 = £11400

Take the £700 prize money away from that and you are left with £10700. £10700 for the administration of the awards. £10700 for the administration of the awards. (I know I’m repeating myself.)

It strikes me that the CWA Debut Dagger, as much as anything, is simply a fund raising initiative. A net of hope and vanity that shoals of berks like me swim into dreaming of fame and fortune and our very own tame literary agent. The lure of getting one’s work in front of agents and publishers who allegedly make up the judging panel (after the slush pile has been vetted by ordinary mortals) blinded me to what I see now as the reality – that the Debut Dagger preys on the hopes and dreams of the deluded (like myself) who think that for £25 it’s got to be worth a shot. You’ve got to be in it to win it! Sound familiar? Same shit different toilet.

On the Internet I saw some pictures of this year’s dagger awards ceremony – the one I wasn’t at. It felt like looking through the window at a party I hadn’t been invited to but should have been. Lots of people were wining and dining and laughing and joking and looking all dressed up and happy. As I mentally pulled up the collar of my coat, shoved my hands deep into my pockets and bent my head to walk off into the chilly night, alone, I vowed that never again would I fall for something like that.

Failure is just an option.

 

I have big news of a personal nature to share this morning with all other writers out there who seek recognition and validation for their efforts.

Yesterday, I blogged about the clock ticking down to the official announcement of the CWA Debut Daggers Crime Writing Award Shortlist at the Crimefest International Crime Fiction Convention in Bristol. This was something that I had entered my three Romney and Marsh Files into. And because of my core belief in my writing and these books I confess to having harboured genuine hope of getting on that list.

I didn’t. I’m now officially part of the chaff.

Naturally, I’m disappointed, but there is nothing ever to be gained by wallowing in self-pity. And I’m not into self-doubt where my writing is concerned.

Anyway a good friend of mine advised me to check out the comments on Amazon of the books I have published if I needed a boost. No need. I have them all memorised. Well, only the good ones.

While I was on the computer, I went to my blog to see if anyone has visited recently and found the following comment posted this morning in my ‘About Me’ page:

Hi. Just finished the second Romney book and downloading the next. I have thoroughly enjoyed your writing. The two main characters are believable and the story lines are not bogged down in minute detail like many other detective books tend to be. Well done and thank you!

Carole, thank you for your most timely, welcome and encouraging comment.

I’m not known for dishing out good advice, let alone taking it (you should see the train wreck that my life is) but today I will make an exception. Here’s something that all writers slaving away at their art could do worse than to take note of: If you’re looking for recognition and validation of your work, as I am, you need only look as far as what your readers take the time and trouble to let you know what they think. No one’s opinions matter more than theirs.

It’s Crunch Time!

This week, I wrote five hundred words of rubbish on another blog-post idea before I realised that my heart wasn’t in it. So I ditched it and decided to write about what’s really on my mind, what’s been on my mind all week and what’s been lurking in the deepest recesses of my thought box for the last few months to be lured out and toyed with now and again, like a good plot twist, as I sit in Starfucks and dream about being a ‘real’ author who sits in Starfucks all day.

Tonight is a very big night in the calendar for around five hundred unpublished crime authors across the universe. Tonight could quite easily prove to be a watershed in the lives of a few of them. Tonight most of their hearts are going to be broken; dreams are going to be shattered; spirits crushed; tears will well and fall; cats are going to get kicked; alcohol is going to drown sorrows and there is likely to be some swearing (good swearing and bad swearing). For tonight, ten unpublished crime writers are going to have to hang on to their hats and their stools as their names are revealed as having been selected for the CWA Debut Daggers Crime Writing Award Shortlist at the Crimefest International Crime Fiction Convention in Bristol. The unsuccessful will be cast aside like the soiled £50 notes that Dan Brown is (allegedly) choking his chicken into for fun these days.

In October 2012 I wrote the following blog-post  https://olivertidy.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/and-the-winner-is/

In January 2013 I wrote this blog-post  https://olivertidy.wordpress.com/2013/01/08/the-acid-test-aka-a-cunning-plan/

You can see that I’ve thought about the Debut Dagger a bit. Like buying £75 worth of Lottery tickets, I think that I’ve had something out of my entries already in the form of fantasising about someone posh reading my name out and other people having to listen to him, bored. (I once heard the National Lottery referred to as taxation by illusion. I wonder why I’m thinking of that now.) For all but ten entrants, that bit of fantasy is all we’re going to get for our money.

Of course, getting on the shortlist guarantees nothing for an author. The CWA even boasts that winning the Debut Dagger is no guarantee of subsequent industry interest. But…

Will it be the end of the world for me if I don’t get a mention? No. It’s more serious than that. It will be the end of my efforts to try to attract the notice of a literary agent and then a traditional publishing deal. I do not query agents anymore and I will not enter this competition again. That reads as a bit snooty. It’s not meant to. It’s just how I feel because of how things have gone for me in self-publishing in the last couple of months. Like I said in my last blog-post: I don’t need a traditional publishing deal, but I do want one. I’m just not prepared to go begging for one any more.

Thankfully, when the sun of Saturday morning rises on my place in the world and, as is quite likely, I have failed in my attempts to get noticed, I do have another project that I’m working on that is exciting me and will distract me from my disappointment. I am going to self-publish as soon as I feel it’s ready. And then I have another Romney and Marsh to get cracking on. Defeat and rejection will not mean the end of me as a writer. But I might be a bit grumpy for an hour or two.

What will I be doing as the clock ticks down to announcement time and the official sorting of the wheat from the chaff? Well, as it happens, I’m going out on the lash in Kadikoy (Istanbul, Turkey) tonight. I turned fifty this week. I feel like that deserves a drink and a good dinner.

(Before someone points out to me that I am already published because I am self-published and so I am ineligible for the competition, I did, naturally, check this with the powers that be and was assured that so long as one met one’s own costs when self-publishing then self-publishing was not a barrier to entry. So there.)

Update: 31.05.2013. 23.20 GMT+2

Failure was just an option.

You’re so vain…

 

It has become my habit on a Thursday night, after my two-year-old son has climbed the wooden hill to Bedfordshire, to sit down and write my Friday morning blog-post. I leave it to simmer/fester overnight and then take another look at it in the cold light of day before titivating; correcting what I can see needs correcting, and posting. That’s how seriously I’m taking my blog-posts these days. Am I a dick for it, I wonder?

I do enjoy the writing of it. Word limits and deadlines are self-imposed. I please myself; I answer to no-one over the content, style, length or language. I can write fuck whenever I like. Fuck. And I can pick my own topic – something that is pertinent to where I happen to be in that particular week in this stumbling about of mine to become an author.

And it is this need to feel like a real author that is a large part of the driving force behind my significant effort, engagement and dedication of time and energy on all fronts: writing, editing, proof-reading, formatting, interacting with readers (hugely enjoyable), social-networking, building an internet presence – a ‘platform’ (vomit). (Not querying agents. I gave that up like I gave up putting teeth under my pillow and for much the same reasons.) But more and more I find myself wondering, what is an ‘author’? How should I be defining the word ‘author’? What should be my criteria for ‘making it as an author’? (My blog tag-line is and has been from day one: ‘on trying to make it as an author’.)

I’ve written three books. I have self-published them. They have been downloaded. The first is free, but a decent number of decent people have gone on to pay for the second and third (if you are one of those decent people, because I have complete editorial control over my blog – another plus of the medium – I am interrupting myself to offer you my sincerest thanks for your continued support and encouragement). They have been read. They have been generally fairly well received. Am I not an author already? If you want to answer yes, as I do, can someone tell me why I don’t yet feel like one? Am I like some flawed character that Aesop may have written about who spends his life looking for something only to find that he has it already? Did I already make the transformation from ugly-duckling to swan? Someone pass me a mirror. (Shit I look tired.)

I do want to see my books in print. I want to hold hard-backed, dust-jacketed, first impressions of the first edition of each of the three Romney and Marsh Files. I want to inhale their reality. I want to line them up on a bookshelf, arrange a chair opposite and stare at them. I want to be courted by an agent. I want to be fought over by publishers. I want to be someone on Twatter (thanks M) who other authors are following (anyone else noticed their cliquey little name-dropping groups – wankers; someone who aspiring authors tweet on the tweets of in the hope of a crumb of recognition falling from their high-table. I make myself feel a little bit ill with my shallowness sometimes.

I have this theory that traditional publishing is the new vanity publishing. I’ve detailed above what I’ve achieved on my own, for myself. To a fair degree, I have what I set out to achieve: books and readers and satisfaction, but I want more. It’s not about the money – I’ve got a day job. I want industry recognition – affirmation and confirmation from those who run things. And that is simple vanity because I don’t need it.

A couple of days ago I reblogged a post by another aspiring author. It makes quite sobering reading for people like me. Tin’s experiences of trying to land an agent – he did get an agent, but it  hasn’t yet amounted to anything. The agent advised him to self-publish! – and subsequent book-deal have served to reinforce how I’m feeling about it all – not horribly negative just realistically resigned and more determined to accept what I am and where I am and probably where I will be in a year’s time. For that I am grateful to him for sharing.

I like to ghost about the web looking at author sites seeing how they view things. I have noticed that there are an increasing number of successful ebook authors who are positively encouraging others to forget about chasing the rainbow of traditional publishing deals, to self-publish, self-promote, take control, enjoy the profits and the feeling and if you should be fortunate enough, or good enough (actually, let’s stick with fortunate enough. There are plenty of good writers out there who won’t be found by the traditional publishing industry because they are simply unfortunate.) to garner attention of agents looking for an author who has proven the market for themselves in every sense of the expression dictate your own terms. Here are mine: (1) a small, hard-back print run of each title (2) you need to hook me up with someone in the music business who can help me produce my music (3) buy me lunch somewhere nice (4) a Shetland pony. OK, three of them are negotiable. My vanity is really quite a powerful thing. I’m such a slut. I could be my own worst enemy.

A reblog from Tin Larrick’s blog

DEVIL'S CHIMNEY COVER[C]
This is my first reblog of a fellow self-publishing author’s post. I’ve had some communication with Tin after I noticed that he was also writing police-procedurals set in the south-east of England. Eastbourne to be precise – next county along from Kent where the Romney and Marsh books are set. I think that Peter James is his closest geographical competition. Yikes!
Anyway, Tin sent me a link to this post of his during conversation and I felt that it would make interesting reading for anyone in the same position i.e. trying to make it as an author. (Incidentally, that’s been my tag-line on this blog since day one and the longer things go on the less I understand what I continue to mean by that phrase. Could be a blog-post in that one day when I can work it out.)
Of course, my first reblog wasn’t going got be easy was it? We blog on different sites and after a little research I understand that the only way that I can reblog his blog is to copy and paste it to mine. How amateurish of me. The original post can be found here: http://tinlarrick.blogspot.com/2012/02/devils-chimney-ebook-launch-or-why-jaws.html The rest of his blog is worth reading too in my humble opinion.
Finally, for anyone who is interested in these things, I have sought Tin’s permission before copying his words and the image above. He might also like me to let you know that his books are going to be free to download at Amazon this coming weekend. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tin-Larrick/e/B007S9VWW6/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1 The reviews are very encouraging. I shall be downloading them myself.
The post: With trembling hand and churning gut flora I click SAVE AND PUBLISH, and DEVIL’S CHIMNEY the eBook becomes a cold hard (well, virtual) reality available for purchase on Amazon’s Kindle store. Almost, anyway. It has to be approved by Amazon’s Kindle Operations Team to make sure it isn’t breaching the Obscene Publications Act, the Public Order Act or the Official Secrets Act (or something). 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, I suppose.
I was hoping for a curiously existential experience as I clicked the button, and it was – sort of. From all the highly illogical variables, high hopes and dashed dreams of the print publishing world to becoming master of my own destiny made me feel like all the little bits of me that have been propping up slush piles throughout London have come home to roost.
So, why the eBook route? To some the answer is probably patently obvious, but, let’s be honest, we’ve all read those rags-to-riches vignettes in the Writers’ Yearbook and similar, and have all dreamed of the letter from the publisher or the phone call from the agent that signifies that we might be one step closer to the dream.
I got halfway down that road. In 2010 three agents made some very enthusiastic noises about DEVIL’S CHIMNEY. Two of them offered to represent me, and I really believed my ship had come in. I signed with one of said agents (and Gawd bless her she still has faith in me – I think). In most of the aforementioned vignettes, signing with an agent was followed some weeks later by a multi-book contract and stick-in-your-throat advance from a major publisher. It was, I used to think, the natural progression of things.
However, 18 months and a LOT of rewrites later, the feelings about DEVIL’S CHIMNEY were rather more tepid. It won’t sell, they said. The market for police procedurals has cooled off, they said. The print world is changing, they said. The global economy has crushed all the little and not-so-little bookshops (Borders, Barnes & Noble) under the weight of its collapse, and if you can’t get stocked by a supermarket (who only stock big, minimum sales-return-guaranteed authors) then forget it. Ten years ago, a publisher would have picked up and run with DEVIL’S CHIMNEY, nurtured my career or something, but not today. Chalk DEVIL’S CHIMNEY up to experience, they said.
I was crushed, the words of one commissioning editor reverberating around my brain. (I couldn’t focus on the GOOD things that were said, naturally, only the BAD). This bit is wooden, this character doesn’t work, this bit is far-fetched. Also, THIS, THIS and THIS would not happen in real life. (I had hoped that my 15 years as a cop would lend some realism to the procedural aspects of the novel, but it seemed to pale into insignificance where this particular commissioning editor was concerned – there’s procedure, and then there’s procedure that sells. Ah well, being an ex-cop is still kudos for the CV, I guess, and maybe something to wax poncy about at [publishing] parties – maybe one day).
Why not publish it as an eBook, my agent said. Ebooks are 20% of the market and climbing. I didn’t want to, really. Like many, I wanted that magical phone call, that won-the-jackpot feeling of elation. And I wanted the tangible, real THING of a book in my hand with my name on it.
So I had to be scientific about it:
CONS:
  • It’s not a ‘real’ book.
  • As a consequence I don’t feel QUITE the same feeling of arrival I would have were I holding a book in my hand with my name on it. To frame this slightly nebulous notion, let me say that I WOULD rush to show friends and family a ‘real’ book; with an eBook, I might just drop it into conversation.
  • Similarly, I don’t feel like a professional. I wouldn’t put ‘author’ in the ‘occupation’ field of an application form just because I’ve published an eBook. I might if it had been a ‘real’ book, just to try it out.
  • It is, after all, self-publishing, which doesn’t have quite the same kudos as being offered a real deal.
  • I won’t be giving up work any time soon.
  • I don’t get to use my real name (Tin Larrick, in case you hadn’t guessed, is a pseudonym). This was on the strong advice of my agent – I’m still not sure why.

PROS:

  • I have complete control, I say when, I say where, I say how. I decide the price, the layout, everything. No longer do I have to await the rejection letters with dread, the ones that may (or may not) be sent out on a whim. I’ve even made up a publishing company for the purpose of e-publishing – The Obscure Cranny Press. Annual turnover – about 37p.
  • It seems strange, but people are more likely to take a chance on a book that costs one pound rather than seven (provided you can get it out there).
  • Similarly, people are more likely to take a punt on a book they can access instantly, without having to wait for mail order or drive to the shops.
  • I’m rolling with the times. I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that says print books will one day become extinct, but the eBook industry can only grow.
  • The thing is out there. It’s not languishing with what’s left of my optimism in a bottom drawer. (I could be wrong, but I do honestly believe DEVIL’S CHIMNEY is now as good as it can be – one of the cardinal rules.) It’s out there, and the readers can decide for themselves. You never know, you just never know.
But the thing that swung it for me? JAWS: THE REVENGE. It was on telly a few weeks ago. It’s a few years since I’ve had the misfortune of watching it, and it hasn’t got any better since then (even Lance Guest can’t save it). The plot is non-existent, the characters two-dimensional, and the effects cringeworthy. (The shark roars like a T-Rex, for Gawd’s sake – even my titchy son knows sharks don’t have vocal cords.)
So why make it at all? Because it was wringing the last drop of out of the cash cow that was the original JAWS. Because the box office receipts superseded the need for quality control (or the ‘art’ side of it, if you will). Despite all its flaws, someone in the biz thought it was ok to release it, because it might make them some money.
Which made me think again – who, in the entertainment business, really knows 100% what will work and what won’t? Who has the integrity to put something back on the shelf that needs further work, even though as it stands it will make a few quid?
It brought me back to the words of the commissioning editor – 10% of what the CE said was right, 10% was wrong (but I could never articulate it, however reasonable, because it would only ever sound like sour grapes), and 80% was entirely subjective.
So I took the plunge. I sorted out a cover, I uploaded it to KDP and I clicked SAVE AND PUBLISH. Easy – if you’ve done the graft. But I shouldn’t have worried so long about whether or not it was a good thing – ten years ago such a thing could not have happened.
Now just got to get out and market the damn thing.
That’s it. If anyone wants to take issue with anything in that please contact Tin directly. I have enough trouble in my life.